Researcher explores whether migration can keep up with climate change

The Academy of Sciences researcher Healy Hamilton worked on a study published in the Christmas Eve edition of Nature that found ecosystems will need to shift a quarter-mile per year on average to keep up with shifting climates.

Will wildlife move quickly enough to keep pace with shifting climates? Climate change is something that the planet experiences all the time, but climate change is happening much faster than the planet has experienced in the past. The results of this study suggest that many species will be unable to keep up with the shifting climate.

How does wildlife adapt to a shifting climate? Any species can stay in place and try to adapt locally to the changing conditions; it can try to move to track its preferred climate as it shifts across the landscape, or it can go locally extinct.

Which species could best adapt? Large, wide-ranging mammal species, such as wolverines, mountain lions, wolves, elk and bighorn sheep, already have broad distributions across a large range of climates. They can’t live in strip malls or gas and oil fields, but if we leave their landscapes intact they may be able to adapt.

How can the findings be applied? This research supports the No. 1 recommendation for helping biodiversity cope with climate change, and that is by building connectivity into our conservation strategies. We want to take our core set of protected areas and then create a matrix between them so that wildlife has the chance to move in order to help adapt.

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